Archive for April, 2007

Apples to Websites

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

We met with a potential client to discuss upgrading their website. After sending the CFO a proposal with estimated costs, we didn’t hear back from her for a couple of weeks, so I emailed her to follow up.

She responded that our proposal was much too high for them. Steve, who has been doing this a lot longer than me, has developed a sixth sense about whether there is any real possibility of doing work with a new business prospect. And he was certainly right in this instance; when we left our one and only meeting with them, he whispered to me, “I see dead proposals.”

But even if his instincts were telling him that working with this company was a long shot that doesn’t mean that we don’t give every opportunity our best shot. So when she said our proposal was too expensive, I responded that if she could tell me what they were prepared to spend, we could scale back the project to meet their budget.

She replied that she had gotten a quote for a website for $399 plus $100 for maintenance and e-commerce. That was about 95% less than our estimated cost.

I was stunned. Not because I was surprised that there is a service out there that will do a website for less than $500  ““ I know about that,  I’ve seen it advertised in the Costco members magazine ““ what shocked me was that she would get a quote so wildly different than ours and think that she was comparing apples to apples. It seems pretty naïve of her to assume that what takes us 100 hours of work can be done by another company in 5 hours. Why wouldn’t she ask for an explanation about the difference in services between us and the other company? The phrase “too good to be true” comes to mind.

Or perhaps she thought our actual cost for doing a website is also $500 but we saw them as an easy mark for making a huge profit.  Wouldn’t she at least want to hear how we justified it? I know I would.

But the only thing that was important to her was the price; not the opportunity to communicate a message of quality and professionalism to the whole wide world of potential customers through the Internet. Apparently, a bare-bones, cookie-cutter website is fine with them.

At that point, Steve told me to take a deep breath and calm down. “There’s not much to do except send a reply back to wish her well and offer that if we can be of any service in the future, don’t hesitate to call.” I left off the part where I was tempted to add, “If you have more than a dollar to spend”¦”

I’m sure they believe that if their company has survived for years with a website that even they think “sucks,” then whatever $500 buys will be an improvement. And who am I to argue with that? At the very least, it will have a better color scheme.

Steve has been through the “meet, prepare a proposal, follow-up, and if they don’t understand the value of what we have to offer, move on” cycle hundreds of times, but I have trouble letting go when we have an encounter that just doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe another 99 more of these and I’ll get over it a little quicker.

Take a Number

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

About a month ago, a client called up with a DVD project that they needed done in a red-hot hurry. We had a flurry of phone calls with them, then we prepared an estimate with the expectation that they would be sending us the materials so we could immediately get started.

About a week passed and we didn’t hear from them. We called to see if the DVD concept had been scaled back to printing 3″ x 5″ clip-art postcards on their inkjet printer once they saw what a project like this actually cost to produce. And we were just plain curious if the project was still alive in any form. They assured us that it was. They were still getting the photos and music together and would have them to us soon.

Two more weeks passes and we don’t hear anything from them. We don’t think too much about it because, thankfully, there’s more than enough other work to keep us busy. But on Friday afternoon, when we get back to the office from a meeting, there’s two voice mail messages waiting for us, asking if we got the Fed Ex package.

I react like my leash had been yanked ““ I think we should call them back immediately. However, once Steve and I talk about it, he reminds me that I don’t need to get caught up in their panic. Steve’s going to be out the rest of the day so he suggests that I call them back later that afternoon to let them know we got the package and that we’ll talk in depth about it next week.

However, when I walk in the door, before I can even set my purse down, the office phone rings. Although I feel a little guilty, I think Caller ID was made for times like this; it’s them again. I don’t answer it. About 5 seconds later the home phone rings. Once again I let technology run interference for me and listen to the message left on the answering machine. “Hi, this is Bob, sorry to call you at home, but I just wanted to make sure you got the Fed Ex and see if you’ve had a chance to take a look at it.” Because we have a home office, if they want to track us down, it’s not hard because they literally know where we live. Much more of this, and I’m going to feel like we’re being stalked.

In the big picture of running a business, we’re not so busy that we turn away work so we’re glad the project is still happening. However, these people don’t know or care, nor should they, that a lot has happened in the two weeks since we last spoke. During that time, we have promised other clients that they would see some progress on their projects.

It’s a little cold to tell them to take a number and go to the back of the line. They are no different from any customer who is waiting to be served. It’s just that in our business, unlike the deli counter, our clients can’t see how many people are in front of them.

Steve gives me a little coaching before I call them back. “Explain why it will be a day or two before we can get to their project. But you don’t need to offer excuses; we’ve haven’t done anything wrong.”

When I call them back later that afternoon, I try to assure them that we’ll get started as soon as we can, but because of other commitments it won’t be until Tuesday. The client’s assistant pushes back, “Mmm”¦not until Tuesday”¦darn”¦how long do you think it will take Steve to do the work? I resist the urge to come back with, “We don’t hear from you for weeks and then you expect us to drop everything, ignore our other clients, and make your project the hottest priority?”

Actually, I know the answer to this question. It’s “yes.”

To Go or Not to Go

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

I have a lot of compassion for the difficulty my teenage daughter has making a decision ““ I can get overwhelmed choosing a color of lipstick at Long’s ““ so it’s no wonder that when she has to make a decision that involves friends, money, and God, it’s not going to be easy.

The specific issue at hand is whether she should go on a youth mission trip to Hawaii ““ a decision that she has been agonizing over for more than a month. Even though she had spent the entire day with Steve and me, she waited until we were just about to get into bed to bring up the subject. In my limited experience with teenagers, there’s a synapse in their brain that fires up at 11:10 pm and information that previously could not be accessed, now starts spilling forth.

Our first question was, “When do you have to decide by?” We were expecting that she would say tomorrow at 8:00 am. But in fact, she has a full week before the decision and money are due, once again showing that she is not a procrastinator. A teenager thinking about something a week before it’s due? That is definitely some long-term planning.

My next question was, “How much?” I’m thinking, “Couldn’t they find a mission field closer to home that doesn’t involve an airplane flight and expensive resorts?” It turns out that it costs $500. For a trip to Hawaii, that’s an absolute bargain. Never mind her going, Steve and I haven’t been to Hawaii in 23 years, why doesn’t she stay home and we’ll go? Serving God among the palm trees with the scent of orange blossoms on a beach without phones or emails sounds great to us.

We shake off the sound of ukuleles and get back to reality”¦for the next 45 minutes we try and bring to light all the issues that she has been wrestling with. Because she often sees me stressed about money, she is concerned about the cost. She sees herself as the “expensive” child because of the lessons and trips associated with her gymnastics.

It’s a good thing Steve is here because it keeps me focused on what is really important: helping her get sort out what she really wants to do. Otherwise, I could be very overbearing and make the decision for her. He asks, “If money were no object, would you want to go?”

She’s torn because she sees it as a valuable service but she’s not sure she if this particular type of service is really her calling. The other kids in the youth group keep asking her if she’s going, but she doesn’t really know any of them well enough to know if she wants to be holed-up with them. She feels like her other activities keep her from participating in a lot of the church outings but she’s not sure if she wants to commit a week of her summer. She doesn’t know if the experience will be worthwhile, but the only way she can find that out is to go.

We get to a point where we’ve probably said everything there is to say about the issue. I don’t know if we helped her in the decision making process, but she said she feels better about it all when she goes to bed. 

However, my head is spinning”¦thank goodness we have three more years before we have to discuss going away to college.

Take the Lead

Monday, April 9th, 2007

I remember my reaction when it became apparent that business development, or put in more practical terms, cold-calling, was going to be my responsibility because Steve was too busy doing the work to also do the outreach. It was something along the lines of “You must be joking!” But as I’ve written about in my other blogs, it’s a part of the job that I’ve actually begun to embrace.

So last week, Steve and I were standing outside the office of a company’s CFO, waiting for her to finish her phone call so we could begin our meeting. We were there to talk about redesigning their website ““ an opportunity that came from my cold-calling.

As we are standing there, Steve sizes up the situation. He’s thinking something along the lines of, “Colleen is the one who made the contact with this company, their website says it’s a woman-owned business, and the CFO we’re waiting to meet with is a woman, young enough to be our daughter. So with all this in mind, he turns to me and quietly says, “Why don’t you lead the meeting?”

I react to the question as if he had suggested that I run the meeting”¦in my underwear. “What? Are you crazy, I’m not ready to be in charge!” After all, he’s the one with 30 years of experience, not to mention that he’s really good at explaining the process to a potential client. And me? During meetings I’m happy interjecting a comment or two and taking notes, but I fear that if the focus is on me, I might be exposed as inexperienced.

Steve can tell that I’ve dug in my heels and he’s certainly not going to be able to convince me that I am most certainly capable of running a meeting in the minute or two we have before our prospective client gets off the phone.

Even as we introduce ourselves, it’s obvious that the woman we are meeting with is expecting me, not Steve, to take the lead. Steve spearheads the discussion but at almost every point, she looks to me for affirmation. Maybe I do remind her of her mother and if mom agrees it’s worth doing, then it’s important.

On the drive back to the office after the meeting, we talk about it. As stubborn as I am, even I can see that this particular situation would have been an ideal one for me to step out of my comfort zone and take on a new level of responsibility. Plus, this was a safe place to do it because Steve was there to back me up if I needed it. And the truth is that I have been paying attention during the four years that we have been working together and I do have experience to draw upon.

I vowed that the next time a similar opportunity arose, which happened to be the following day, I would not shrink from running the meeting. In this particular case, the woman and owner of the company related more to Steve than me, but I went into the meeting ready to be an equal partner with Steve.

The topic of what level of responsibility I am capable of handling, reminds me of a discussion Steve and I have had several times. He says that if for whatever reason he could not run the business, that I would be able to take it over. Sure, it might not be exactly the same business we have now, but he believes I could continue to keep our marketing business up and running.

“There’s no way I could do that!” But I do stop and think about it. And then I keep praying for his continued good health.

Call Waiting

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” But in my case I would expand on that phrase a bit: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned or ignored following a new business meeting.”

The story starts as I was making my way through my cold calling list and I got a call back from a voice mail message that I had left just minutes earlier. It was a high tech company and the VP of marketing was returning my call to say that he was interested in our services. Yippee for me, I hooked one! Sack dance time! Steve chatted with him on the phone, discussing a potential project that seemed to be an ideal match for our capabilities. He happened to have an opening the following morning so we made an appointment to meet with him the next day.

We met for about an hour and during the meeting, the VP frequently commented that “we really understood what he was looking for,” and he nodded his head in agreement to the points Steve was making. We finished the meeting all smiles and he took us on a tour of their facility, introduced us to some of his staff, and acknowledged that the timing of my phone call to him was fortuitous. We even chatted about our children of similar ages.

For an engineer, he seemed almost bubbly about the prospect of working together. I know that one good meeting doesn’t make someone your new best friend, but I certainly felt like we had made a connection. When we left, he said that he would be talking with the president of the company, and if we didn’t hear back from him, to give him a call in two to three weeks.

More than three weeks goes by and we don’t hear from him so I call and get his voice mail. I leave a message that I’m just checking in, and we’re still excited about the opportunity to work together, etc. I imagine what he’ll say when he calls back: “You’ve been on my mind constantly, I’ve just been very busy but I can’t get along without your services a moment longer so let’s schedule another meeting so we can immediately get started on the project.”

The reality is that I don’t hear back from him that hour, or day, or week. When I mention to Steve that I’m really bummed out because he didn’t return my call, he reminds me that we had a meeting not a date and I can stop checking my cell phone for missed calls.

Three more weeks pass and I call and leave another voice mail and again, he doesn’t call back. I’m thinking, “Why would a guy who seemed very polite not return my call?” In my mind, there’s only one legitimate reason: total incapacitation ““ in which case I want a note from his doctor. “Dear Steve and Colleen, please excuse Tom’s inability to return your calls. He has been hospitalized for the past six weeks without access to a phone. However, his prognosis looks good and he promises that you will be the first call he makes upon his discharge.” Nothing short of this will placate me.

Back to reality, I’ve already left two voice mails ““ how long should I wait before I leave another? When does following-up become stalking? I decide that driving to his office before dawn and waiting in the parking lot to ambush him when he arrives for work to ask him why he hasn’t returned my calls would probably fall into the latter category.

Steve, who has been in this business a couple of decades longer than I have, reminds me that I can’t get too invested in any one prospect. “After all,” he says, “haven’t we had more than a dozen equally good meetings with every bit as much potential for business?”

Yes, he’s right. If I slow down and set aside my indignation I know that you have to kiss a lot of toads to find a prince. And the truth is that since we haven’t talked with him since our initial meeting, this guy could in fact turn into a prince”¦he could just be a late bloomer. I should know better than anyone about taking a longer term view of things; some new business contacts I made more than two years ago are now bearing fruit.

And what if I leave him a couple more voice mails and we never hear back from him and that’s the end of it? Was that meeting a waste of time? When I think back to how I felt when he responded to my cold call, I remember that it totally re-energized me. That meeting was not a waste of time, it gave me the encouragement I needed to keep making calls, and getting meetings, and making more calls…